Your body composition begins and ends with the trip to the grocery store. Variations in the amount of protein, carbs and fats in the products filling your grocery cart just might surprise you. But by following these simple guidelines regarding nutrition labels, you can improve your family’s health and slim your waistline:
Become an ingredient detective: By familiarizing yourself with the key hormone-hindering ingredients that may spike your blood sugar and insulin, boost excess harmful estrogen, and increase belly fat, you can avoid them 100 percent of the time. To get your hormones in balance, you should steer clear of the following:
- Processed meats and luncheon meats: Instead, visit your local deli or butcher and ask for preservative-free (nitrate-free) sliced meats.
- Farmed salmon: A 2004 study found higher toxin levels in farmed salmon than in wild-caught.
- Foods containing artificial colouring, preservatives, sulphites and nitrates.
- Trans fatty acids (any hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, shortenings, margarines) and unhealthy, inflammatory fats including most vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower), cotton seed oil and palm oil.
- Peanuts, unless they are organic and certiified aflatoxin-free: Aflatoxins are toxic substances made by molds and are toxic to the liver, even in very small amounts.
Check serving sizes: One way of getting the calories to appear low on a product is to decrease the servings size. But a serving size of ¼ cup of ice cream isn’t realistic considering the amount that most of us would really eat in a sitting. Depending on the amount that you will be ingesting, you may have to double or even triple the contents of the nutrition label to get an accurate picture. Then measure the calorie count against the total number of calories you should be having. A good rule to follow is to have approximately 400-500 calories per meal (and about half that for snacks).
Check your carbs and fibre: When it comes to carbs, the type and the amount can make a big difference in your weight, energy levels and digestion. When checking labels, you will want to look at two items in particular: the total carbs and the fibre. For example, if you take a look at a box of crackers you may have 12g of carbs per serving, and 3g of fibre for a total of 9g of “net carbs” (the actual carbs that will have an impact on blood sugar levels). While you don’t have to bring a calculator to the grocery store the next time you go, you will want to look for products that have at least 2g of fibre in them. If you have a number of brands to choose from, select the product that’s highest in fibre and lowest in total carbs.
Check your protein: If the product contains similar amounts of protein and carbohydrate — or even better, more protein than carbs per serving — it is a good choice. For example: vanilla soy milk has 11g of carbs and 6g of protein; plain soy milk has 3g of carbs and 6g of protein. In this case, the plain milk is a much better bet. Without getting too technical, you should be including a serving of protein the size of your palm with each meal, three times a day, and a serving of half of your palm size with each snack, twice a day. When reading labels, the typical male should have 35g to 40g of protein per meal and 15g to 20g per snack. Women should consume 25g to 30g per meal and 15g per snack.
Check your fat content: Check the saturated fat content, in particular, and aim for little to none, but certainly no more than 3g per serving. Here’s another guideline for hormonal health: high protein supersedes low fat. So if you have to decide between a product that has more protein but also slightly more fat over another that has lower protein as well as low fat, I suggest that you still go for the higher protein option. Be sure that the fat source isn’t coming from hydrogenated oils, palm kernel oil, trans fatty acids, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, vegetable oil, shortening or margarine, which will be noted in the ingredients. All of these are a definite no-no 100 percent of the time.
Check your sodium: Products with less than 140mg of salt per serving are considered to be low-sodium choices. Remember, you should consume only 2,300mg of sodium per day, which is equal to about a teaspoon of table salt. When comparing products, try to pick the one that’s lowest in sodium. Sometimes I may end up consuming more sodium if the product happens to have a great protein and carb balance. Just remember to keep up your water intake, and avoid high-sodium options completely if you have high blood pressure. Remember processed and packaged foods that contain preservatives, like prepared pasta side dishes, tend to have loads of sodium and fewer nutrients.
Watch the sugar and avoid artificial sweeteners: Avoid table sugar (sucrose) and all products with sugar and artificial sweeteners. This includes rice syrup, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, foods/drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup, packaged foods, candies, soft drinks, juice, etc., as well as sucralose, aspartame, saccharin and all other forms of artificial sweeteners. Remember that fructose-sweetened foods or foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) tend to increase appetite and cravings, while foods containing aspartame and artificial sweeteners raise insulin and contribute to weight gain. Select products that are sweetened with xylitol or Stevia.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.